The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy – Julia Quinn

TO QUOTE THAT book his sister had read two dozen times, it was a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Sir Richard Kenworthy was not in possession of a fortune, but he was single. As for the wife . Well, that was complicated. “Want” wasn’t the right word. Who wanted a wife? Men in love, he supposed, but he wasn’t in love, had never been in love, and he didn’t anticipate falling in such anytime soon. Not that he was fundamentally opposed to the idea. He just didn’t have time for it. The wife, on the other hand . He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, glancing down at the program in his hand. You are Cordially Welcomed to the 19 th Annual Smythe-Smith Musicale featuring a well-trained quartet of violin, violin, cello, and pianoforte He had a bad feeling about this.

“Thank you, again, for accompanying me,” Winston Bevelstoke said to him. Richard regarded his good friend with a skeptical expression. “I find it unsettling,” he remarked, “how often you’ve thanked me.” “I’m known for my impeccable manners,” Winston said with a shrug. He’d always been a shrugger. In fact, most of Richard’s memories of him involved some sort of what-can-I-say shoulder motion. “It doesn’t really matter if I forget to take my Latin exam. I’m a second son.” Shrug. “The rowboat was already capsized by the time I arrived on the bank.” Shrug. “As with all things in life, the best option is to blame my sister.” Shrug. (Also, evil grin.

) Richard had once been as unserious as Winston. In fact, he would very much like to be that unserious again. But, as mentioned, he hadn’t time for that. He had two weeks. Three, he supposed. Four was the absolute limit. “Do you know any of them?” he asked Winston. “Any of who?” Richard held up the program. “The musicians.” Winston cleared his throat, his eyes sliding guiltily away.

“I hesitate to call them musicians . ” Richard looked toward the performance area that had been set up in the Pleinsworth ballroom. “Do you know them?” he repeated. “Have you been introduced?” It was all well and good for Winston to make his customary cryptic comments, but Richard was here for a reason. “The Smythe-Smith girls?” Winston shrugged. “Most of them. Let me see, who’s playing this year?” He looked down at his program. “Lady Sarah Prentice at the pianoforte—that’s odd, she’s married.” Damn. “It’s usually just the single ladies,” Winston explained.

“They trot them out every year to perform. Once they’re married, they get to retire.” Richard was aware of this. In fact, it was the primary reason he had agreed to attend. Not that anyone would have found this surprising. When an unmarried gentleman of twenty-seven reappeared in London after a three-year absence . One did not need to be a matchmaking mama to know what that meant. He just hadn’t expected to be so rushed. Frowning, he let his eyes fall on the pianoforte. It looked well-made.

Expensive. Definitely nicer than the one he had back at Maycliffe Park. “Who else?” Winston murmured, reading the elegantly printed names in the program. “Miss Daisy Smythe-Smith on violin. Oh, yes, I’ve met her. She’s dreadful.” Double damn. “What’s wrong with her?” Richard asked. “No sense of humor. Which wouldn’t be such a bad thing, it’s not as if everyone else is a barrel of laughs.

It’s just that she’s so . obvious about it.” “How is one obvious about a lack of humor?” “I have no idea,” Winston admitted. “But she is. Very pretty, though. All blond bouncy curls and such.” He made a blond bouncy motion near his ear, which led Richard to wonder how it was possible that Winston’s hand movements were so clearly not brunette. “Lady Harriet Pleinsworth, also on violin,” Winston continued. “I don’t believe we have been introduced. She must be Lady Sarah’s younger sister.

Barely out of the schoolroom, if my memory serves. Can’t be much more than sixteen.” Triple damn. Perhaps Richard should just leave now. “And on the cello . ” Winston slid his finger along the heavy stock of the program until he found the correct spot. “Miss Iris Smythe-Smith.” “What’s wrong with her?” Richard asked. Because it seemed unlikely that there wouldn’t be something. Winston shrugged.

“Nothing. That I know of.” Which meant that she probably yodeled in her spare time. When she wasn’t practicing taxidermy. On crocodiles. Richard used to be a lucky fellow. Really. “She’s very pale,” Winston said. Richard looked over at him. “Is that a flaw?” “Of course not.

It’s just . ” Winston paused, his brow coming together in a little furrow of concentration. “Well, to be honest, that’s pretty much all I recall of her.” Richard nodded slowly, his eyes settling on the cello, resting against its stand. It also looked expensive, although it wasn’t as if he knew anything about the manufacture of cellos. “Why such curiosity?” Winston asked. “I know you’re keen to marry, but surely you can do better than a Smythe-Smith.” Two weeks ago that might have been true. “Besides, you need someone with a dowry, do you not?” “We all need someone with a dowry,” Richard said darkly. “True, true.

” Winston might be the son of the Earl of Rudland, but he was the second son. He wasn’t going to inherit any spectacular fortunes. Not with a healthy older brother who had two sons of his own. “The Pleinsworth chit likely has ten thousand,” he said, looking back down at the program with an assessing glance. “But as I said, she’s quite young.” Richard grimaced. Even he had limits. “The florals—” “The florals?” Richard interrupted. “Iris and Daisy,” Winston explained. “Their sisters are Rose and Marigold and I can’t remember what else.

Tulip? Bluebell? Hopefully not Chrysanthemum, poor thing.” “My sister’s name is Fleur,” Richard felt compelled to mention. “And a lovely girl she is,” Winston said, even though he had never met her. “You were saying . ” Richard prompted. “I was? Oh, yes, I was. The florals. I’m not sure of their portions, but it can’t be much. I think there are five daughters in the family.” Winston’s lips twisted to one side as he considered this.

“Maybe more.” This didn’t necessarily mean that the dowries were small, Richard thought with more hope than anything else. He knew little of that branch of the Smythe-Smith family—he knew little of any branch, truth be told, except that once a year they all banded together, plucked four musicians from their midst, and hosted a concert that most of his friends were reluctant to attend. “Take these,” Winston suddenly said, holding out two wads of cotton. “You’ll thank me later.” Richard stared at him as if he’d gone mad. “For your ears,” Winston clarified. “Trust me.” “Trust me,” Richard echoed. “Coming from your lips, words to send a chill down my spine.

” “In this,” Winston said, stuffing his own ears with cotton, “I do not exaggerate.” Richard glanced discreetly about the room. Winston was making no effort to hide his actions; surely it was considered rude to block one’s ears at a concert. But very few people seemed to notice him, and those who did wore expressions of envy, not censure. Richard shrugged and followed suit. “It’s a good thing you’re here,” Winston said, leaning in so that Richard could hear him through the cotton. “I’m not sure I could have borne it without fortification.” “Fortification?” “The pained company of beleaguered bachelors,” Winston quipped. The pained company of beleaguered bachelors? Richard rolled his eyes. “God help you if you attempt to form sentences while intoxicated.

” “Oh, you’ll have that pleasure soon enough,” Winston returned, using his index finger to hold his coat pocket open just far enough to reveal a small metal flask. Richard’s eyes widened. He was no prig, but even he knew better than to drink openly at a musical performance given by teenaged girls. And then it began. After a minute, Richard found himself adjusting the cotton in his ears. By the end of the first movement, he could feel a vein twitching painfully in his brow. But it was when they reached a long violin solo that the true gravity of his situation sank in. “The flask,” he nearly gasped. To his credit, Winston didn’t even smirk. Richard took a long swig of what turned out to be mulled wine, but it did little to dull the pain.

“Can we leave during intermission?” he whispered to Winston. “There is no intermission.” Richard stared at his program in horror. He was no musician, but surely the Smythe-Smiths had to know that what they were doing . that this so-called concert . It was an assault against the very dignity of man. According to the program, the four young ladies on the makeshift stage were playing a piano concerto by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But to Richard’s mind, a piano concerto seemed to imply actual playing of a piano. The lady seated at that fine instrument was striking only half the required notes, if that. He could not see her face, but from the way she was hunched over the keys, she appeared to be a musician of great concentration.

Albeit not one of great skill. “That’s the one with no sense of humor,” Winston said, motioning with his head toward one of the violinists. Ah, Miss Daisy. She of the bouncing blond curls. Of all the performers, she was clearly the one who most considered herself a great musician. Her body dipped and swayed like the most proficient virtuoso as her bow flew across the strings. Her movements were almost mesmerizing, and Richard supposed that a deaf man might have described her as being one with the music. Instead she was merely one with the din. As for the other violinist . Was he the only one who could tell that she could not read music? She was looking anywhere but at her music stand, and she had not flipped a single page since the concert began.

She’d spent the entire time chewing on her lip and casting frantic glances at Miss Daisy, trying to emulate her movements. Which left the cellist. Richard felt his eyes settle on her as she drew her bow across the long strings of her instrument. It was extraordinarily difficult to pick out her playing underneath the frenetic sounds of the two violinists, but every now and then a low mournful note would escape the insanity, and Richard could not help but think— She’s quite good. He found himself fascinated by her, this small woman trying to hide behind a large cello. She, at least, knew how terrible they were. Her misery was acute, palpable. Every time she reached a pause in the score, she seemed to fold in on herself, as if she could squeeze down to nothingness and disappear with a “pop!” This was Miss Iris Smythe-Smith, one of the florals. It seemed unfathomable that she might be related to the blissfully oblivious Daisy, who was still swiveling about with her violin. Iris.

It was a strange name for such a wisp of a girl. He’d always thought of irises as the most brilliant of flowers, all deep purples and blues. But this girl was so pale as to be almost colorless. Her hair was just a shade too red to be rightfully called blond, and yet strawberry blond wasn’t quite right, either. He couldn’t see her eyes from his spot halfway across the room, but with the rest of her coloring, they could not be anything but light. She was the type of girl one would never notice. And yet Richard could not take his eyes off her. It was the concert, he told himself. Where else was he meant to look? Besides, there was something soothing about keeping his gaze focused on a single, unmoving spot. The music was so jarring, he felt dizzy every time he looked away.

He almost chuckled. Miss Iris Smythe-Smith, she of the shimmering pale hair and too-large-forher-body cello, had become his savior. Sir Richard Kenworthy didn’t believe in omens, but this one, he’d take. WHY WAS THAT man staring at her? The musicale was torture enough, and Iris should know—this was the third time she’d been thrust onto the stage and forced to make a fool of herself in front of a carefully curated selection of London’s elite. It was always an interesting mix, the Smythe-Smith audience. First you had family, although in all fairness, they had to be divided into two distinct groups—the mothers and everyone else. The mothers gazed upon the stage with beatific smiles, secure in their belief that their daughters’ display of exquisite musical talent made them the envy of all their peers. “So accomplished,” Iris’s mother trilled year after year. “So poised.” So blind, was Iris’s unsaid response.

So deaf. As for the rest of the Smythe-Smiths—the men, generally, and most of the women who had already paid their dues on the altar of musical ineptitude—they gritted their teeth and did their best to fill up the seats so as to limit the circle of mortification. The family was marvelously fecund, however, and one day, Iris prayed, they would reach a size where they had to forbid the mothers from inviting anyone outside of family. “There just aren’t enough seats,” she could hear herself saying. Unfortunately, she could also hear her mother asking her father’s man of affairs to inquire about renting a concert hall. As for the rest of the attendees, quite a few of them came every year. A few, Iris suspected, did so out of kindness. Some surely came only to mock. And then there were the unsuspecting innocents, who clearly lived under rocks. At the bottom of the ocean.

On another planet. Iris could not imagine how they could not have heard about the Smythe-Smith musicale, or more to the point, not been warned about it, but every year there were a few new miserable faces. Like that man in the fifth row. Why was he staring at her? She was quite certain she had never seen him before. He had dark hair, the kind that curled when it got too misty out, and his face had a finely sculpted elegance that was quite pleasing. He was handsome, she decided, although not terrifyingly so. He was probably not titled. Iris’s mother had been very thorough in her daughters’ social educations. It was difficult to imagine there was an unmarried nobleman under the age of thirty that Iris and her sisters could not recognize by sight. A baronet, maybe.

Or a landed gentleman. He must be well connected because she recognized his companion as the younger son of the Earl of Rudland. They had been introduced on several occasions, not that that meant anything other than the fact that the Hon. Mr. Bevelstoke could ask her to dance if he was so inclined. Which he wasn’t. Iris took no offense at this, or at least not much. She was rarely engaged for more than half the dances at any given assembly, and she liked having the opportunity to observe society in full swirl. She often wondered if the stars of the ton actually noticed what went on around them. If one was always at the eye of the proverbial storm, could one discern the slant of the rain, feel the bite of the wind? Maybe she was a wallflower.

There was no shame in that. Especially not if one enjoyed being a wallflower. Why, some of the— “Iris,” someone hissed. It was her cousin Sarah, leaning over from the pianoforte with an urgent expression on her face. Oh, blast, she’d missed her entrance. “Sorry,” Iris muttered under her breath, even though no one could possibly hear her. She never missed her entrances. She didn’t care that the rest of the players were so mind-numbingly awful that it didn’t really matter if she came in on time or not—it was the principle of the matter. Someone had to try to play properly. She attended to her cello for the next few pages of the score, doing her best to block out Daisy, who was wandering all over the stage as she played.

When Iris reached the next longish break in the cello part, however, she could not keep herself from looking up. He was still watching her. Did she have something on her dress? In her hair? Without thinking, she reached up to brush her coiffure, half expecting to dislodge a twig. Nothing. Now she was just angry. He was trying to rattle her. That could be the only explanation. What a rude boor. And an idiot. Did he really think he could irritate her more than her own sister? It would take an accordion-playing minotaur to top Daisy on the scale of bothersome to seventh circle of hell.

“Iris!” Sarah hissed. “Errrrgh,” Iris growled. She’d missed her entrance again. Although really, who was Sarah to complain? She’d skipped two entire pages in the second movement. Iris located the correct spot in the score and leapt back in, relieved to note that they were nearing the end of the concerto. All she had to do was play her final notes, curtsy as if she meant it, and attempt to smile through the strained applause. Then she could plead a headache and go home and shut her door and read a book and ignore Daisy and pretend that she wasn’t going to have to do it all over again next year. Unless, of course, she got married. It was the only escape. Every unmarried Smythe-Smith (of the female variety) had to play in the quartet when an opening at her chosen instrument arose, and she stayed there until she walked down a church aisle and claimed her groom.

Only one cousin had managed to marry before she was forced onto the stage. It had been a spectacular convergence of luck and cunning. Frederica Smythe-Smith, now Frederica Plum, had been trained on the violin, just like her older sister Eleanor. But Eleanor had not “taken,” in the words of Iris’s mother. In fact, Eleanor had played in the quartet a record seven years before falling head over heels for a kindly curate who had the amazing good sense to love her with equal abandon. Iris rather liked Eleanor, even if she did fancy herself an accomplished musician. (She was not.) As for Frederica . Eleanor’s delayed success on the marriage mart meant that the violinist’s chair was filled when her younger sister made her debut. And if Frederica just happened to make certain that she found a husband with all possible haste .

It was the stuff of legend. To Iris, at least. Frederica now lived in the south of India, which Iris suspected was somehow related to her orchestral escape. No one in the family had seen her for years, although every now and then a letter found its way to London, bearing news of heat and spice and the occasional elephant. Iris hated hot weather, and she wasn’t particularly fond of spicy food, but as she sat in her cousins’ ballroom, trying to pretend that fifty people weren’t watching her make a fool of herself, she couldn’t help but think that India sounded rather pleasant. She had no opinion one way or the other on the elephants. Maybe she could find herself a husband this year. Truth be told, she hadn’t really put in much of an effort the two years she’d been out. But it was so hard to make an effort when she was—and there was no denying it—so unnoticeable. Except—she looked up, then immediately looked down—by that strange man in the fifth row.

Why was he watching her? It made no sense. And Iris hated—even more than she hated making a fool of herself—things that made no sense.

.

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